AN BORD Pleanála has postponed a preliminary hearing on plans for a city-centre link between Dublin’s two Luas lines after discovering the senior planning inspector appointed to deal with the case had what it called “a possible perceived conflict of interest”.
In its notification to some 80 parties, the appeals board said it had “come to the board’s attention that the inspector appointed to examine this application attended a public information exhibition in connection with the proposed project approximately 18 months ago. The board is confident that such attendance would not have influenced the inspector or have given rise to prejudice or bias in the performance of her duties.
“However, in order to avoid possible perceived conflict of interest, the board has decided it would be appropriate to appoint a replacement inspector.”
The hearing, which was due to open today, was to have been held by senior planning inspector Anne Marie O’Connor. However, it is understood that one of the parties – who the board declined to identify – drew the board’s attention to her attendance at the exhibition. “It’s for them to say who it was,” a spokesman said.
One planning source who did not wish to be identified commented that the potential conflict of interest in the latest case involving Luas was “relatively innocuous”, as any member of the public was entitled to attend the Railway Procurement Agency public information exhibition on plans for the city-centre link.
The agency has sought approval from An Bord Pleanála for the construction of the new Luas line, which would run for 5.6km from St Stephen’s Green – where the Sandyford line terminates – to Broombridge in Cabra.
It would run through the city centre via Dawson Street, Nassau Street, Lower Grafton Street, College Green, Westmoreland Street and O’Connell Street, returning via Marlborough Street, Hawkins Street and College Street via a new bridge over the river Liffey.
The appeals board expressed regret that it was necessary to postpone the preliminary hearing, to allow for the appointment of a replacement inspector. But its spokesman said this would involve no undue delay in dealing with the agency’s application.
The board has become particularly sensitive to potential conflicts of interest after losing a High Court case over how it handled plans for a landfill at Usk, Co Kildare. The court quashed its decision to grant permission, saying it had shown “objective bias”.
In another case, involving Dublin Port’s controversial plan to infill 52 acres of Dublin Bay, An Bord Pleanála had to dispense with the services of HR Wallingford, its technical advisers on the application, after it emerged that they had undertaken work for a potential rival, Bremore Port.
Earlier this month, the board denied there was any conflict of interest in one of its members, Conall Boland, handling a case involving heavily contested plans by the Cosgrave Property Group for 600 apartments on the former Dún Laoghaire Golf Club lands. He had previously worked for RPS, who acted as consultants on the scheme.